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by SixFigureStart | March 11, 2009


Looking back at the Great Depression to see the path ahead. Will the Recession make women fat, or will we stop killing ourselves to be thin? During the Roaring Twenties, something happened to the female form in America. Grown women stopped looking like women, and started to look like young boys. The years of the late 19th century and early 20th century had been presided over by the Gibson Girl, rendered in the pen-and-ink drawings of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. The curvaceous Gibson Girl represented the first national standard of beauty. She was busty. Her cheeks were rounded. She was tall, poised, and self-confident. She had an athletic, can-do physicality, announcing her spunk with golf club raised in the air as she shouted “Fore!” In the 20s, the shapely Gibson Girl fell out of favor, replace by the thin, boyish figure influenced by the flapper fashions of Coco Chanel. Cinched waistlines that emphasized hourglass shapes gave way to dropped waistlines that made for narrow silhouettes. Women began binding their chests with strips of cloth and traded corsets for longer length girdles that made their abdomens appear flat. The slight bodies suggested lightness and effervescence – a gal who flitted and danced from party to party without a care.

The Great Depression and the war years brought back a more solid female shape. Breasts came back in style and women no longer tried to flatten their bottoms. The waifish flapper figure wasn’t substantial enough to fit comfortably into a new, tougher reality. Betty Grable, the most popular pinup girl of WW II, epitomized the full-figured, sporty look popularized in Depression-era Hollywood. Hers was a shapely body molded by exercise and clearly well-fed. In a period of economic instability, being ultra-thin was no longer a sign of being fashionable, but a frightening indicator of want. Body size is a moveable feast, and it changes according to cultural flux.

After a long reign of fragile-looking, emaciated models, a strong, athletic form look may be making a comeback. First Lady Michelle Obama’s muscular shape recently graced the cover of Vogue, announcing a new look for the new reality. At the Academy Awards, Kate Winslett was queen of the evening, her gloriously curvaceous figure the envy of all. In interviews she announced – shocker!—that she is too busy to exercise and eats whatever she wants. Oprah Winfrey praised her “real” figure, telegraphing a message to women across American that it’s okay to sport a more natural look. The First Lady and the Academy Award Winner, substantial in both intellect and physicality, flaunt bodies that suggest strength and purpose. They look independent, normal, and accessible. As the cost of tummy tucks and expensive personal trainers becomes prohibitive to many, the culture may be move towards a more organic, natural appearance in women. The style-arbiters of the mainstream media, accustomed to chastising women for every perceived extra pound, warn that we must be extra vigilant as the Recession rages. encourages us not to put on “recession pounds,” noting that an economic downturn may cause us to nosh more frequently on processed foods because of their low cost. Certainly we shouldn’t give up healthy foods in order to keep buying the unnecessary accoutrements of modern living, but perhaps we can relax a bit and focus on maintaining a weight that’s healthy for us as individuals, rather than trying to look like adolescent boys. In the midst of a crisis, women are just too busy to worry about being thin.

--Posted by Lynn Parramore,

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